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Whats happening to our game?

kids playing rugby
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What’s happening to our gameThis past weekend we saw a feast of international rugby (six in total) and I must say that I have major concerns about the future of the game.I agree that we are talking about test rugby and it’s not the place to experiment or take chances. It’s all about winning but what concerns me most is the quality of execution. Most of the matches were boring, dull, slow, pedantic and riddled with mistakes.Teams like Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Japan, Samoa, Ireland and England have not improved since the last world cup and as we know Australia and France (better performance against the All Blacks) are going through some bad times. It’s only South Africa (all though not playing to their full potential) that has a chance at this stage to challenge the All Blacks. If it carries on like this the gap between NZ and the rest will just increase even more. It’s not to say the All Blacks will stay unbeaten. They are vulnerable and can be beaten but their opponents will have to be at their best on the day.Currently the type of rugby most teams are playing are so similar. It’s not like years ago where each country had it’s own style of play. Today it’s mostly a one or two pass game with one up runners trying to cross the advantage line as quickly as possible, bashing into their opponents, massive collisions, wrestling for possession and flying into rucks like missiles.The possession that results from this type of play is usually off the ground and too slow to launch an effective attack and the attacking side usually has more players in the collision area compared to the defensive side. On attack your aim should be to get rid of defenders but this style of attack usually manufactures more defenders. This automatically forces the attacking team to take it up into contact again with the aim of sucking in the defenders and this is repeated until the attacking side feels they have earned the right to attack with their backs.I have never understood the term:”you must earn the right to attack”. Rugby is very simple. You attack where there is space or you attack in such a way to create space to attack for supporting players. The aim is to go and score as quickly as possible and as we know you might be stopped from doing it but then your aim after the first stoppage (phase) must be to try and see how you can go and score as quickly as possible.Coaches are satisfied if their side has been able to take the ball through multiple phases (sometimes over 12 phases) but all they have done is that they have kept the ball away from the opposition. That’s all. We saw this in the match between Wales and the Springboks where they were attacking the Boks line but actually going nowhere.Defensive systems have improved in leaps and bounds over the past five years compared to the attacking capabilities of teams. Coaches spend much more time on defence than attack (attack is not only working on tactical play for the backs), because if your team is defensively good they can be competitive in a short space of time.  The challenge for coaches is not only to be competitive but to try and turn their team into a dangerous side.This can only be done if more time is spent on teaching each player in your team to play with the ball (a very simple definition) and how to support the ball carrier. It is important for each individual player to have a high level of individual skill, to be creative, to recognise opportunities, to read the situation in front of them and to react positively. Then it’s up to the supporting players to back that player with intelligent support.Habana’s try against Wales was a good example. He reacted to the situation in front of him, attacked the mid-space between the Welsh hooker and the wing, Bismark and Jean backed Habana with intelligent support and a fantastic try resulted. This try was not planned from structured play practiced in the week prior to the match.The teams that played on the weekend consist of fully professional rugby players who play rugby for a living. They are at it all day with strength and conditioning programs, improving their individual and game related techniques and skills. Why is it then that so many players in these teams on the weekend displayed poor basic skills (passing and catching), poor execution, and unimaginative robotic like play.We have to watch a high number of aimless kicking because teams become too structured and the players too scared to play outside the game plan and the instructions from the coaches. If this is the case then we would not have seen the tries of Jean de Villiers and Fourie du Preez against Wales and also so many of the All Blacks tries.We need a mind shift in world rugby to close the gap between the All Blacks and the rest. There won’t be improvement in play if coaches stay conservative in their approach. They have to start thinking out of the box and make sure they spend much more time improving the individual ability of each player. The trick is to keep the balance between conservatism and creative play. 

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by Dr. Radut.